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Indiana Football Aiming For Normal Game Day Experience Without Fans

Memorial Stadium

Indiana's Memorial Stadium (Joey Mendolia/WTIU)

The leaves are changing colors as fall settles on the Midwest. Normally, Indiana would be at the halfway point of its football season by now.

But these are not normal times.

Because of COVID-19, the Big Ten delayed the start of the season to this weekend and put restrictions on game days. That means a shortened season, no fans in attendance and no tailgating outside the stadium.

“We’re going to do our best to prevent large gatherings outside the stadium as well,” Indiana Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications Jeremy Gray said. “All of our gates will be manned, and it will be impossible to get into the parking lots without a pass.”

Officials are concerned large gatherings around town and on campus for Saturday's home game against Penn State could lead to the spread of the virus.

“Just be careful, because we easily could backslide,” Bloomington mayor John Hamilton said. “We've seen that around the country. So enjoy the football, watch it on TV. Stay with your pod your household and really try to avoid causing backsliding here.”

Inside the stadium, Indiana will shoot for a game-day atmosphere even without fans.

“There will be an intro video that they run out to, there will be a national anthem played before the game, there will be, you know, graphics on the video board after a touchdown is scored,” Gray said. “We will have a public address announcer. We will play music during timeouts.

“We will do as much as we possible can so that it feels like a regular game day for our athletes.”

The Big Ten has set parameters for how loud the sound can be, with a maximum of 90 decibels. But it is allowing school’s leeway for traditions such as the “Jaws” theme on third downs, the student band playing and the cannon firing after scores to be used on the scoreboard.

“And then, obviously, big, big big plays for IU or the other big 10 schools and their stadiums, you know, we can we can amp up the crowd noise, we can add sound effects,” Indiana Senior Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Mark Skirvin said.

They’ll also pump in crowd noise provided by EA Sports, the video game giant. It will be the same sound EA Sports uses in its NFL and NCAA football games.

Skirvin says there’s an art form to figuring out when to amp up the crowd or not.

“You’d see a play developing and you think, ‘Oh, it's going to go 50 yards,’ and then the running back might fumble the ball,” Skirvin said. “And suddenly, the momentum shifts instantly. But, yet, you're still playing crowd noise and everybody's excited. And you realize, ‘Oh, I'm in trouble.’ And there's, there's no way to back out of that when that happens.”

The Big Ten is allowing family of staff and players to attend, and Indiana expects from 900 to 1,000 people for Saturday’s game.  They will be joined by fan cutouts in the north and south end zone stands. Taking a cue from Major League Baseball and other sports, Indiana is selling the cutouts and has various promotional tie-ins available, depending on the package fans purchase.

Skirvin said one fan alone bought 19 cutouts, one for each of his grandchildren.

“We have a loyal fan base out there, so we thought they would get into it,” Skirvin said. “We've got probably close to 400 seats in the north end zone. So, you know, if we can fill three-quarters of that, that'd be awesome.”

Indiana will have three more home games after Saturday, wrapping up its eight-game regular season at home against rival Purdue on Dec. 12.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here

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